I noticed with wonder when advocate Naeem Bukhari placed an order for a second samosa after having one at the cafeteria of the Supreme Court before proceeding to the Court Room No.1 to prosecute Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on November 17. I could not figure out how he can handle a case after eating two samosas early in the morning. Later on, my concerns proved true, as the way both he and advocate Hamid Khan performed could be summed up by stating that they contested the case of PTI in the morning and the PTI is contesting their case in TV talk shows till every evening without a break.
The Court Room No.1 was full of lawyers, media persons and parliamentarians both from the PTI and PMLN. Not a single inch of land was available to move, which reminded me of the popular joke that a man bought a lion and offered his display against a ticket worth Rs1000. No one turned up. So, he started reducing the ticket price and finally offered free of cost entry. It attracted many and everyone rushed to have a glimpse of the lion. The man then locked the door from the outside after releasing the lion from cage and announced that he would charge Rs2000 on the exit door. I told one lawyer that not a single person would stay in the court room if the Honourable Chief Justice, after locking up the doors, announces that he would initiate his inquiry against corruption from the people standing in the court room. The court room would get empty within no time, my lawyer friend apprehended.
My very first impression about the attitude of the honourable judges was that they were not happy with the proceedings and wanted to get rid of it sooner than later. That is why, as soon as the lawyer of Jamaat-e-Islami turned up at the rostrum to plead, Mr Justice Azmat Saeed inquired bluntly: “What’s your problem?” It was led by laughter across the court room. Even, the honourable judge could not stop himself from passing a smile to normalize the situation. Prior to it, the Honourable Chief Justice had snubbed advocate Tariq Asad for wasting the time of the court by stating that the court was ready to hand over the issue to a judicial commission but the petitioners (PTI) were not ready to agree. He also criticized the NAB, saying that the reply filed by the NAB has made clear that the law does not permit them to proceed into the matter. It was followed by another remark from the honourable chair that the NAB was helpless to proceed in the case, but not in drawing salaries. It was followed by a formal invitation to the advocate Hamid Khan to proceed with his arguments on the case. The court attitude suggested that it was in full mood to let the PTI prove its case against the Prime Minister.
Arguments from advocate Hamid Khan started off at 11:30 a.m., which continued until quarter to two in the afternoon. Hamid Khan wasted these two hours in reading out three speeches of the prime minister one by one from beginning to end, which irritated the honourable judges and they pointed out to him that he had failed to present his case before the court. They told the lawyer that he was doing politics by addressing the people, and not the court. Advocate Naeem Bukhari proceeded as a cover up lawyer and sought permission to read the findings of Zafar Ali Shah case, which added fuel to the fire as the Honourable Chief Justice made clear that the findings of Zafar Ali Shah case had become irrelevant after a series of follow up judgments. Mr Justice Azmat Saeed also pointed that there was no use of reading out a judgment when advocate Hamid Khan had already wasted the time of the court by reading the speeches of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for two hours. When the court found Naeem Bukhari adamant to read from the Zafar Ali Shah case, Chief Justice Supreme Court further warned that he would hold a full court to decide the fate of this judgment before accepting it as a precedent in present case. Advocate Naeem Bukhari clarified that he was not relying upon the finality of the case but wanted to refer to a few findings of the court on the flats owned by Sharif family in London with reference to Hudabia Paper Mills back in the mid-90s. The court allowed him to read from the controversial judgment with strong reservations and the Chief Justice pointed out how he could call it a finding of the court when the preceding paragraph clearly stated that these were the arguments of the parties to the case soon he finished his reading. Naeem excused for using a wrong word and admitted his mistake. But he was again caught on the wrong foot when he termed the judgment as a harangue of paragraphs. Justice Asif Saeed Khosa objected the word ‘harangue’, saying that it was not appropriate to use such impression for court judgment. Advocate Naeem Bukhari started sweating after repeated warnings by the court. It was followed by adjournment of the case until 30th of November.
Outside the court, interestingly, both the PTI and Sh Rashid were fighting a case in front of the TV cameras entirely different from what their lawyers kept fighting within the court for two hours. They are unable to understand that the court has made clear it was not inquiring about the ‘person’ of the prime minister or his taxes and investments. Instead, their inquiry was restricted to the ownership of four flats of London. The court is expecting a documentary proof from the PTI on the issue in hand. Even Mr Justice Azmat Saeed hinted to the PTI lawyers that they could prove their case from the documents submitted by the prime minister and his children but he made clear that he would not tell them which documents they should focus on to prove their case. The situation was quite clear when the court pointed out that two judges were not available in the coming week therefore they are adjourning the case until 30th November. Advocate Hamid Khan and Naeem Bukhari jointly requested to continue hearing the case on the very next day as well but the Chief Justice made clear that the court could not hear them at the cost of other litigants, as all cases are important for him.
The November 17 hearing of the case suggests that the PTI is interested in putting the prime minister on trial while the court is interested in resolving the controversy related to the Panama papers. Let us see how the two sides bridge this gulf and focus on a common point. The PTI should keep in mind that the verdict of the apex court would supersede their stance in case they got failed in mitigating their difference of approach with the court.
The writer is a senior journalist.